Need to solve a tough problem? A study published online February 11 in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests you are more likely to succeed if you solve it on another person’s behalf. Psychologists asked 137 students to picture either themselves or a stranger stuck in a tower and to think of a way to escape using only a rope that did not reach the ground. Of the students who imagined a stranger in the tower, 66 percent found the solution—divide the rope lengthwise and tie the pieces together—compared with 48 percent of those who pictured themselves in the tower. Co-author Evan Polman of New York University says one implication is that if we imagine that our problems belong to someone else, we might find better solutions.
This article was originally published with the title "Can I Help You? Solving a Problem Is Easier When It Belongs to Someone Else" in SA Mind 22, 3, 12 (July 2011)